At some point in the life of most adults, the tradition of gifts exchanged at Christmas truly becomes more about giving than receiving. You know you’ve made the turn, when pure joy is derived from seeing excitement in others, especially children, and you recognize your own contentment with opening a box of socks. Deer hunting is similar.
Nothing mattered to me more than deer hunting for about 10 years of my life. Not sports. Not college parties. Not girlfriends. If it was deer season, I was hunting. During the short Indiana gun season, I’d hunt every morning before school. If only for 30 minutes. Montana’s vastness drew me west. I hunted bears, elk, waterfowl, pheasants, grouse, and became obsessed with fly fishing. But nothing has ever competed with deer hunting during firearms season in the Midwest.
With so little responsibility early in life, I was able to focus on what mattered most to me, being outdoors. Then I had children. Immediately, being outdoors was no longer the most important aspect of my existence. Admittedly, I have not lacked for outdoor involvement during my first two decades of fatherhood, but much can be attributed to the fact that I have made a career out of my passions for conservation and traditional sporting activities. Most of the time I was outdoors, I was actually at work.
Both of my girls have hunted and fished, but neither of them has developed a passion for either. They appreciate nature and enjoy spending time outdoors, but I believe they mainly go to please me. And I appreciate it very much, because sitting out in nature, watching sunrises and sunsets, listening to birds, and watching animals with your child sitting silently beside you, well, we don’t share enough of those moments.
Hunting has the power to teach so much. It teaches us to respect life and death. Lots of young people feel a fire for hunting, only to have it extinguished the first time they grapple with the emotions of taking a life. Once the adrenaline fades, there is a heavy cloud of remorse. For some, the cloud passes by quickly. For others, it lingers. Hunting teaches patience and stillness. It tests us against the elements and forces us to deal with discomfort. Or, at least it used to.
Deer hunting has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. We used to build treestands out of lumber. Find a good V in a tree and nail on two outside boards, then nail on the top boards and use a bucket for a seat. We’d try to climb branches to reach the stand, but maybe had to screw in a step or two. Hunting clothing was far less advanced, so we’d sit there freezing, toes and fingers close to frostbite, with nothing to do but stare into the abyss praying to see a deer, any deer. All you wanted was to get a buck. It didn’t matter how big. Every buck was a trophy. Does weren’t allowed to be shot in those days.
Today, through deer hunting, I recognize a glaring example of how our society is becoming softer. The way many children hunt today, including mine, is from a blind that is essentially a treehouse. There is likely a heater at their feet, a bag of snacks next to a cooler with drinks. They are cozy in a comfy chair, wrapped up in a blanket watching videos on their phone or tablet that’s running on 5G while waiting on me to tap them on the shoulder and say “deer”. Which could be a buck named Bullwinkle who has been showing up on trail cameras for three years. Yeah, times are different.
You can still find adventure in hunting. I did it this year with my moose hunt in Montana, and I’ll spend time being cold chasing whitetails in the wide open later this fall. But I crave uncomfort. I know it comes from those long sits at 12 years old on below zero days with wind so strong it was whipping tears out of my eyes. It was miserable in moment, but I endured to build strength and fortitude. We are not affording our children the same opportunities.
Deer season used to give us something uncomfortable to do that could result in an extremely gratifying reward. When you killed a buck and all your friends and family celebrated, you were recognized for accomplishing something difficult. It felt good. When the meat from your deer was shared at the dinner table, you could revel in the work you’d accomplished to provide for others. There wasn’t a deer hunting industry back then. Hunting was a way of life.
This season, keep in mind the complexity of what deer hunting is and what it can be. If you are going alone, allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Doing something hard to renew your appreciation for the comfort of your recliner. If you are mentoring a young hunter, as I will be, recognize this opportunity for teaching. Remember, cold fingers and toes build stronger backbones.
See you down the trail…
Pic: Old treestands were made out of lumber a left hunters uncomfortable against the elements.